2017 will always be remembered as the year in which hip hop grew up and moved beyond the mainstream and underground divide. Names like Vince Staples, Lil Uzi Vert and even Lil Pump brought in their own non-genre rap and Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z fortunately stuck to the classics and made it better. Rap in 2017 saw a lot of movement – mobility to be precise. It did not stick to the basic rules and found the space to take liberties.
Let’s take a look at the hip hop names who went bold in 2017. Eminem and his album Revival does not feature on this list, as it has just been released and still needs to stand the test of time and politics
Kendrick Lamar only made his act a better one this year – he doesn’t win the top spot because of his consistency, but because he was the first to figure out what modern rap needed. Lamar’s hip hop has is the one that has been around since the late ‘80s and ‘90s – the kind on which NWA and Public Enemy was built.
The fact that Lamar takes it beyond political constraints and talks about racism and poverty in the basest sense is what gives him an edge. He does not need to try too hard as he can envision his niche all too well. DAMN talks about surviving alongside multiple identities – religious, cultural, racial, social etc, and his visual talents of course, work in his favour. Humble and DNA were widely applauded for their music videos. Numbers like Loyalty and Blood also brought the rap basics back.
Future is the next big thing in hip hop and represents the crop of rappers who had a relatively shallow start, but have evolved into a more balanced act. His eponymous fifth studio album was a big hit, and you must have heard of the hit single Mask Off (which also has a remix feat. Kendrick), which took the Billboard by storm.
Though consistency is not the most essential trait in hip hop – especially now, Future manages to deliver in almost every track and balances out his themes in a spectacular way. His songs Draco and Extra Luv were also successful. But Future’s music should be rated beyond the Billboard, much like Kendrick, because it is very evident that he is not making music just to sell it.
If you’re onto the Black Panther theme song BagBak, you need no introduction to Vince Staples – you have obviously enshrined him on your shuffle list. The 24-year-old rapper had a stellar run in 2017. He tries to make use of electro in his music, but not in a way that makes it sound like a dance track. Vince is one of the rappers who are changing hip hop for good. In his album Big Fish Theory, he does something extraordinary and brings together rap with textures and rhythms of trance and EDM.
Jay Z still remains a class act with his (almost too) personal album 4:44. The references to infidelity, Beyonce, his children and his mother’s homosexuality aside, 4:44 had some undeniable good rap. In his 13th studio album Jay Z does what most hip hop icons wouldn’t bother to, after almost two decades in the industry.
Tracks like Kill Jay Z and Smile, were trailblazers in their own rights, because they were so different, and fresh. Jay Z almost gets it too well, that he has to keep on moving towards a better hip hop identity – one that is beyond race and his cult status. 4:44 in a way in Jay Z’s personal legacy, and yet it has something so new and original, that it might just be the best album of 2017.
The millennial’s favourite rapper and Instagram sensation Playboi Carti has had a great year. For one, he brought alive the mixtape with his debut ‘album.’ The self-titled mixtape is all about beats and in a way, gives us a glimpse into what hip hop might look like a decade later. Not just because of of what he does with mumble rap, but because of his melodies. He is not just futuristic but quite obsessed about the old staples and reinventing and reusing them.
Carti was hands down the best young find of 2017, and though mumble rap has been criticised by some hip hop bigwigs, Carti’s music still sounds stellar.